Yesterday evening, we around 20:30 h at our final destination for today: Karte, just south of Dharapani, the starting point of our trek. Yesterday morning at 6:30 h Wongmu, Namgya, Pemba, and Kazi – a friend of Pemba who will be our porter. Wongmu took some stuff like my PC with her to keep it at home. We left Kathmandu around 7 h with a 4WD that proved quite essential as the road was pretty bad after the monsoon. It took us 7 hours to reach Besi Sahar, a distance of ~ 180 km. Halfway we had lunch in a small village. We changed car in Besi Sahar since beyond this point you can only use local drivers for economic reasons. Namgya went back and I stepped in the 4WD pick-up truck with Pemba and Kazi, and some other guy stepped also in the car. After a while a whole bunch of people climbed in the back apart from a lady with a baby who squeezed herself in the car. Subsequently, we had the wildest ride I have ever made, scarier than any ride in any attraction park. The only difference being that this one lasted 6 h to cover about 50 km. The road was actually more a dirt track that was washed away in many places. Small landslides were kind of fixed but at the big ones, with huge rocks on the way, we had to walk with our luggage through the mud to another car at the other side of the blocked part. In a kind of estafette we reached Dharapani, driving in the dark during the last 2 h which made it especially exciting… This morning, I got up at 5:30 h to pack my stuff for today. Having noodles with eggs for breakfast and lots of coffee. Soon we will hike to Gowa, about 800 m higher than Karte.
This morning during breakfast Namgya messaged me that the permits were expected today and that we needed to get a PCR-test. We needed to go to HAMS (Hospital for Advanced Medicine & Surgery), the only hospital that is allowed to test foreigners. It was busy and social distancing seems an alien concept. After filling out a few forms and paying, we get another form and wait in line until we are called, get a test-tube and can walk to the swabbing booth. A lady siting in the booth behind a screen with two holes for her hands, swiftly takes swabs. The results should be ready in 6-8 hours. Pemba took me back to the hotel and we packed stuff that needs to go directly to Manaslu Base Camp.
Late afternoon Namgya called me that he had received the permit and that I needed to come over to finish the bottle of wine he had opened Sunday and that Wongmu would cook some dinner. When Pemba came to fetch me, I asked him to go by the nearby pastry shop to buy a big cake for Namgya’s family to celebrate. Namgya was still very busy arranging stuff when I arrived. Despite it was well more than 10 hours since we were tested, no results from the PCR had arrived. Namgya said that he had tried to reach the hospital but without success. As I suspected that a foreign request might get a bit more attention, I called HAMS and the operator kindly connected me to the COVID-test center. I explained the situation and they mailed our negative results straight away.
The main problem is the route we will follow. Basically, there are two itineraries possible (see: Manaslu 2021 – itinerary). The preferred route follows the western trail but is blocked at several places by landslides. In the end it is decided that the materials for Manaslu Base Camp will be send via the alternative route via the eastern trail, but that we will follow the western trail. So, tomorrow we will drive to Besi Sahar (a ~7 hour drive) and see there what the best options are to continue. If needed, we can go by helicopter across the blocked stretches it seems. Anyway, tomorrow at dawn, we hit the road !
Unfortunately, we haven’t received our permit to climb Manaslu yet. Although there are already 200+ climbers in Nepal, the minister of tourism hasn’t issued any permit for any mountain so far, but there is a lot of pressure on him and the latest news is that permits will be granted as per September 1st.
As a consequence, I’m stuck in Kathmandu for the moment. The Hyatt Regency is, although old and run-down, a pretty nice hotel and the gym and pool are open. Yesterday I went for a swim. However, there is a big sign that the pool is temporarily closed due to the covid-pandemic and there were 2 police man guarding the place. Since I had seen people swimming earlier, I asked one of the officers whether it was OK to swim, and he said it was no problem… It seems to be typical for the maintenance of corona rules in Nepal. Hopefully, they will be lenient with the climbing permits as well.
This morning, Namgya and I had planned to go for a hike at 5 AM, but as it was raining heavily we decided to postpone. Around 10:30 AM Pemba came to fetch me on his motor-cycle. He had a two-person raincoat and we drove (probably at half the speed he would normally drive) through the very busy traffic of Kathmandu while he was carefully trying to avoid holes in the road, puddles with muddy water, the occasional cow on the route, and all other traffic. I was glad when we arrived at Namgya’s new house… The place is beautiful, surrounded by green and very big. During the day family popped up from every corner of the house (in-laws, cousins and, to my surprise, even Namgya’s mother). Yangkeela and Tashi were pleased with the gifts I brought them and Wongmu had prepared an incredible nice lunch with dal bath and chicken, and – since Namgya knows I like potatoes – a lot of fried potatoes as well. After a copious lunch, Namgya took me for a hike just outside Kathmandu. For him Kathmandu is a village: he knows everyone and everyone knows him. We made a nice tour along three buddhist monasteries on the hill outside Kathmandu and – to my surprise – ran into Landuk, our cook from the Dutch Everest 2012 expedition. Of course, we sat down, drank lots of milk-tea, and memorised the past. Later we also ran into Dawa Finjok, who was with me when I summitted Everest in 2016. Namgya said I would meet him again tomorrow…
Due to the sitiuation with the delta variant of the corona-virus it remained uncertain, but last Friday the honorary consulate of Nepal in Amsterdam issued me a visa for Nepal and this Tuesday (24 August) I’ll be flying to Kathmandu !